Rebuilding Hope One Hug at a Time
In January 2019, 2-year-old Youstiana and her family were in a tragic car accident near their home in Nashville, Tennessee. In an instant, the family was forever changed.
Youstiana’s mother and 6-year-old brother were killed in the accident. Thankfully, Youstiana’s 10-year-old sister Youlana had only minor injuries and has since recovered. However, Youstiana and her father, Alaa, were seriously injured.
More than a year later, Alaa continues to struggle with a debilitating leg injury from the accident as he tries to focus on his young daughter’s health.
The accident left Youstiana with a severe brain injury that led to several surgeries, including one on her eye. Once a smiling, talkative toddler, Youstiana suffered memory loss, vision and hearing problems, and could no longer walk or speak after the accident. She also had difficulty moving her right side due to a stroke after the brain injury.
Two months after the car accident, Youstiana was transferred to Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital in St. Louis—300 miles from her home and family—to help her recover.
Youstiana’s family moved to the United States from Egypt nine years ago with no other family in the country. Although Alaa’s mother came to Nashville to offer help after the accident, the family faces many ongoing challenges including grief after their family’s loss.
In addition, Alaa is currently unable to lift Youstiana or provide the necessary special care for her because of his own injuries. He also can’t drive. As a result, Alaa has only been able to visit Youstiana four times in the past year. Although it has been painful to be far away, he has wholeheartedly entrusted his young daughter’s care to Ranken Jordan.
“After the accident, I was losing hope, especially after my wife and son died,” Alaa says. “We almost lost Youstiana, too. Since she arrived at Ranken Jordan, I’ve seen lots of improvement in her. I’m so grateful that Youstiana is coming back to us.”
Steps Toward Healing
Through therapy, Youstiana is regaining her balance and starting to walk again using special equipment that helps her stand up. Her vision and hearing have also improved.
Initially, she was refusing to eat. Although she has a feeding tube, she is now willing to try food because she sees the example of other children eating.
Alaa is pleased to learn about Youstiana’s progress. ““Everyone at Ranken Jordan loves Youstiana and does a very good job with her,” Alaa says. “When we came to visit in January, she was smiling and so happy to see me. She even tried to use her right arm to hug me, which she couldn’t do before. Even the physical therapist was surprised. She said she had never seen Youstiana so happy and that it means Youstiana remembers me. Her memory is coming back.”
The Ranken Jordan team focuses on sibling needs, too. Recognizing the emotional challenges Youstiana’s sister, Youlana, has endured, the team keeps her entertained with fun activities when she visits. “When Youlana comes to the hospital, she plays more than she visits her sister,” Alaa says with a laugh. “She enjoys all the activities.”
Connecting a World of Resources
The family’s circumstances lead to a wide variety of needs. Leaning on a strong network and vast experience, Ranken Jordan’s social work team provides vital resources for the family, including language translation services during care conference calls and during family visits. Alaa speaks limited English.
The compassionate Ranken Jordan team also has arranged for flights, lodging and transportation when Alaa and his family visit Youstiana in St. Louis. The team makes key connections with generous partners such as Southwest Airlines that offers complimentary flight vouchers to families requiring specialized medical care. Ranken Jordan also meets essential needs for families through donor support and linking to other community resources.
Community of Support Bridges the Distance
Because Alaa can’t visit his daughter as often as he would like, the team provides him with regular updates about Youstiana and finds creative ways to strengthen the father-daughter bond.
One special way they do this is by combining technology with story time. A national non-profit called Little Wishes gave Youstiana and her father storybooks written in their native language, Arabic. The Ranken Jordan team regularly sets up a FaceTime story time so Alaa can read the books aloud to Youstiana across the miles. While it’s not quite the same as snuggling in a comfy chair to read, this virtual story time solution has a vital, heartfelt impact. “Youstiana looks at me when we’re reading and makes cooing sounds and tries to talk,” Alaa says. “She couldn’t do that before.”
The staff also has connected the family to a church in St. Louis where members speak Arabic. Church members visit Youstiana often and speak in her familiar language to offer comfort.
When Youstiana turned 3 recently, the church members and Ranken Jordan team members planned a special birthday party for her, complete with balloons and a cake. Since Youstiana’s family couldn’t be there, the party planners took plenty of photos, which were then sent to Alaa.
“They had a beautiful party for Youstiana, which touched me,” Alaa says. “The team at Ranken Jordan is like family and I feel very comfortable with her there. They treat us with such compassion and have been so understanding about what we’re going through. We appreciate the many things Ranken Jordan does for us.”